April 14, 2023: The thick crescent moon nears Saturn before sunrise. Three bright planets – Venus, Mercury, and Mars – are in the western sky after sundown.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:12 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:30 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location. Times are calculated by the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
The thick crescent moon, 38% illuminated, is low in the southeastern sky at 45 minutes before daybreak. It is 26.0° to the upper right of Saturn, that is 10° above the east-southeast horizon. The lunar orb seems to hop eastward each morning while its phase wanes.
Begin looking for earthshine on the thinning moon. Sunlight reflected from Earth’s oceans, clouds, and land light up the lunar night.
In two mornings, the lunar crescent is 5.0° below Saturn at this hour.
Saturn continues to slowly emerge from bright twilight, rising two minutes earlier each day compared to the changing sunrise time.
Jupiter, after its solar conjunction, is in bright sunlight. It is visible in the eastern sky morning sky next month. It is visible lower in the sky because it is considerably brighter than Saturn and shines through the blight blush of morning twilight.
Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the western sky after sundown. Brilliant Venus is easy to see and rivals the lights on a low-flying airplane. Mars is higher in the western sky to the upper left of Venus and in front of Gemini. Mercury is dimming and moving toward inferior conjunction between Earth and the sun.
At forty-five minutes after sundown, the Evening Star is about 30° above the western horizon. It is stepping eastward in front of Taurus, 4.8° to the upper left of the Pleiades star cluster and 9.1° to the lower right of Aldebaran, the Bull’s brightest star.
Through a binocular, the planet is in the same field of view as the Pleiades star cluster and the star 37 Tauri (37 Tau on the chart). Its night-to-night motion is easily spotted against these stars. This evening, Venus is 4.8° to the upper left of the Pleiades and 0.8° above 37 Tauri. In two evenings, Venus is too far away from the Pleiades to fit into the same field of view.
In contrast, Mercury – after its largest separation from the sun, known as greatest elongation – is retreating toward brighter twilight and dimming. Still visible without a binocular, use the optical assist to initially locate the speedy planet. It is over 10° above the west-northwest horizon and over 20° to the lower right of Venus.
The third planet, Mars, is over 35° to Venus’ upper left. The Red Planet is marching eastward in front of Gemini, appearing to pass 0.2° to the left of distant Mebsuta, – meaning “the outstretched paw of the lion” – and nearly 13° below Castor.
To see Mars against Gemini, wait until near the end of twilight, when the pattern’s dimmer stars are visible. Castor and Pollux are high in the western sky. Mars, about the same brightness as Pollux, is lower in the sky.
From night to night, watch Mars move eastward, generally toward Pollux, passing in a wide conjunction on May 8th.
Watch this planetary-fest in the western sky. Mercury continues to disappear into bright twilight and Venus, moving through the Taurus’ starfields, slowly cuts the gap to Mars.
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